Astonishing number of platypuses found entangled in litter

Ash Cant
·5-min read

WARNING - GRAPHIC CONTENT: A new study has highlighted the devastatingly high number of platypuses entangled in rubbish in urban areas.

Australian Platypus Conservancy found one in 25, or four per cent, of platypuses living in urban catchments in Victoria are entangled in one or more items of rubbish.

Though in some rivers, this number is as high as 15 per cent, or roughly one in seven platypuses.

The research, which was submitted and approved by the Australian Mammal Society, found out of 54 entanglements in Victoria, rubbish mainly encircled the platypuses' neck.

In a press release, Dr Melody Serena, the Conservancy’s Senior Conservation Biologist, said rubbish entanglements are a huge threat to platypuses due to how they search for food.

Platypuses are more likely to get entangled in rubbish due to how they mainly source their food. Source: Getty Images
Platypuses are more likely to get entangled in rubbish due to how they mainly source their food. Source: Getty Images

Platypuses will mainly scavenge for food at the bottom of a waterway, where rubbish accumulates, Dr Serena explained.

Human behaviour is key to ensuring platypuses are safe in their habitat, she said.

In Victoria, platypuses are considered 'vulnerable' and biologist Dr Geoff Williams from Australian Platypus Conservancy said there is a push to have the mammals listed as "threatened".

"There is certainly a case to be made that in some areas, because platypus populations have gone down drastically," he told Yahoo News Australia.

The items seen most in platypus entanglements

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Dr Williams, who co-authored the report with Dr Serena, said there are a few repeat offenders when it comes to items that harm wildlife.

The first, plastic rings of various descriptions.

"They range from things like those plastic rings on six pack holders, but all sorts of other plastic rings that people have like the seals off of jars like Vegemite jars," Dr Williams said. 

Even the plastic seals on milk bottle lids have been found entrapping platypuses.

Platypuses sometimes get entangled in plastic rings, which can be particularly detrimental. Source: The Australian Platypus Conservancy
Platypuses sometimes get entangled in plastic rings, which can be particularly detrimental. Source: The Australian Platypus Conservancy

Rubber bands also often find their way around platypuses — but an issue which is emerging in urban areas is hair ties.

Yahoo News Australia previously spoke with Dr Williams about hair ties and the threat they pose to wildlife, after a dead platypus was found last year with what appeared to be a hair tie around its neck. 

Hair ties used to be a small scale problem, however recently the issue has become more prevalent.

Dr Williams explained there was an incident last year where a young platypus in Central Victoria had only been out for three or four weeks, but had already become entangled with multiple hair ties.

"In that short space of time she picked up three of those elasticated hair ties," Dr Williams explained.

"When you get three bunched together like that they really are an incredible burden around the animal's neck."

About one in four platypuses in irban areas are caught in rubbish entanglements. Source: Denise Illing via The Australian Platypus Conservancy
About one in four platypuses in urban areas are caught in rubbish entanglements. Source: Denise Illing via The Australian Platypus Conservancy

He said the hair ties had worn through the young platypus's skin and muscle, leaving it close to death.

Dr Williams believes most recreational anglers are responsible fishermen, however fishing line is another item which constantly ends up around platypuses.

He said fishing line entanglements are particularly prevalent in rural areas of Victoria.

"I think most recreational anglers do the right thing but unfortunately, there is a proportion that get their lines snagged or tangled and instead of doing their best to get the line out they just leave it," he said.

"When it gets around a platypus it's horrendous."

A hospital identification wristband, an engine gasket, a child’s plastic bracelet, a circular metal rim from a bicycle headlamp and the elasticated cuff from a sweatshirt have also been recovered from animals that have either died or been severely injured.

Some entanglements result in deaths, pictured here is a platypus which was entangled in fishing line. Source: Jade Taillard via The Australian Platypus Conservancy
Some entanglements result in deaths, pictured here is a platypus which was entangled in fishing line. Source: Jade Taillard via The Australian Platypus Conservancy

What you can do to prevent entanglements

Dr Williams has started collecting hair ties he finds on the ground. When he last spoke to Yahoo News Australia he said he collected 20 within a month.

He's still collecting the hair ties and says he's now got a pretty large collection.

"If you're walking around the city, you'll see an amazing number of them [hair ties] on the ground," he said.

"I've been making a collection over the last year — on average, I find one a week and my collection is getting bigger and bigger."

Besides being mindful and responsible for your hair ties, there are a few things people can do to make sure their rubbish doesn't end up around a platypus.

Dr Williams said people should be disposing their litter responsibly and cutting those plastic rings when doing so.

By disposing of rubbish responsibly and cutting plastic rings, people can reduce the risk of platypuses getting entangled. Source:  Australian Platypus Conservancy
By disposing of rubbish responsibly and cutting plastic rings, people can reduce the risk of platypuses getting entangled. Source: Australian Platypus Conservancy

"Even though we dispose of things responsibly, it doesn't mean that on a journey to the tip or wherever it's going things don't get spilled over," he said.

"I think we all drop garbage in a garbage container at the local park and then come back to find the whole bin has been kicked over or the ibis' have gotten into it."

"So just because we dispose of something responsibly, we can't guarantee it's not going to end up in the wrong place. Cutting through the ring just makes that a little bit more certain that it becomes a safe object rather than something that's a potential threat."

Dr Williams also said having less litter in the first place could also potentially solve the problem.

By cutting down on excessive packaging, or switching to biodegradable packaging, it would be safer for the animals in the wild.

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Storeor Google Play.